Inspired by real historical pirates like Anne Bonnie, Mary Reed, and Calico Jack, Tim Yates has come up with a fantastical setting and story that will set your heart pounding with non-stop adventure. Anne Bonnie, Vol. 1: The Journey Begins is set in a fictional fantasy setting, complete with carousing pirates, rune-based magic, and a kingdom of elves, but the primary focus is on a high-spirited girl named Ariana and her quest to become as great a pirate as her heroine, the notorious pirate queen Anne Bonnie.
The story begins as a young Ariana watches a ship-to-ship battle from the safety of a castle; orphaned when her parents were lost at sea, she’s currently a ward of the powerful Lord Firestorm, but prefers to spend her time listening to her “uncle” Shen Kenoshi recount tales from Anne Bonnie’s glory days. Bonnie herself disappeared years ago, after an infamous and lucrative career on the Great Sea, but stories of her deeds (and misdeeds) are still hugely popular. Kenoshi is forced to leave shortly afterward, entrusting a special key with Ariana and ordering her to remain at the Burning Keep in Firestorm’s care, where she will be safe.
Ten years later, Ariana has grown into a curious young woman who makes an incredible discovery: a magical self-sailing ship called The Crimson Dawn, kept locked up in an underground cavern below the Burning Keep. Ariana’s dreams of piracy have only intensified as she’s aged, and she immediately sees the ship as her ticket out from under Firestorm’s thumb. After a daring escape, Ariana sails from her home country of Kirthland across the seas to Sapphire Bay, where she meets and rescues a slave named Finn from his owner, an Elvish princess. Finn has a few secrets of his own, and with his help — and the help of an accident-prone creature dubbed Derpy Bird — Ariana begins what she hopes will be a long and fruitful piracy career of her own.
Anne Bonnie is inspired by historical figures, but it’s not meant to be an accurate accounting of their lives and deeds, nor does it take place in any geography we would recognize. These factors allow Yates to tell his own story and use characters to his own purposes, as well as create his own world. The core cast of characters is interesting, especially with various revelations about their backgrounds and identities. The population is pleasingly diverse, both in terms of principal characters and background faces.
Ariana is an appealing mash-up of Pippi Longstocking and Robin Hood: exuberant energy, irrepressible good humor, and a strong sense of moral justice dictating that she must always help those in need of assistance. This might seem contradictory to her dream of being a pirate queen, but the popular view of pirates as wholesale murderers and thieves isn’t historically accurate; real-world pirates in the Caribbean frequently engaged in raids on plantations, liberating slaves and taking on anyone who wanted to become a crew member, to give just one example. Ariana gets a chance at the end of the volume to engage in a high-stakes revenge scheme, proving there’s a difference between pirates who act as a balancing force between high and low classes of society, and pirates who take advantage of people for their own benefits. Anne Bonnie contains a pervasive sense of discovery and adventure — Ariana’s making things up as she goes, with no idea what the long-term effects of her actions will be or how she will be received by legitimate pirates. Including those older pirates provides friction between the way things are “supposed” to be and what Ariana wants to do, and it’ll be interesting to see how that tension plays out in future volumes.
Yates’ art is a touch uneven at times: while body proportions are sometimes a little odd or noodle-limbed, his work with faces is really fantastic, clearly conveying a multitude of expressions with just a few lines. Early characters don’t always seem to be a part of their environment, instead appearing to have been drawn in detail on top of broad-stroke sketches of hills or ocean waves. As the comics progress, there’s a better sense of integration, and the components of individual panels become more cohesive. The action scenes are fluid and the moments when magic is used are quite plain, drawing the reader’s eye toward important details when necessary. I especially loved Yates’ use of color and shadow, and his art retains a pleasingly hand-drawn style even though there are obvious digitally-altered elements.
Vol. 1 of Anne Bonnie does a good job of setting up the basics of this world, its systems, and the people who inhabit it. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how everything came together in the first place, particularly Ariana’s life at the Burning Keep and Shen’s servitude under Lord Firestorm, but the primary focus in this volume is introducing the reader to Ariana’s point of view and newfound identity. She’s not a terribly introspective young woman, but there’s time for revelations about who she is and why The Crimson Dawn is so special. With plenty of room for further growth and expansion, Anne Bonnie: Vol. 1 is a very good, solid starting point. Recommended.